In a county like Kerry where exceptionally gifted forwards have always rolled off the production line, it takes a very special talent to electrify the public. David Clifford succeeded in doing that as he marked his first senior inter-county season with a series of outstanding performances, which earned him an All Star award at right full-forward.
The 19-year-old Fossa clubman was also also chosen as the All Star Young Footballer of the Year.
His super-skills first came to national prominence when he played a crucial role in Kerry’s All-Ireland minor successes in 2016 and 2017, leaving his promotion to the senior squad this year as inevitable.
Despite the greater demands against older, more experience defenders, he settled in quickly and improved as the season progressed. And while Kerry failed to qualify from the ‘Super 8s’, it certainly wasn’t Clifford’s fault.
He scored a total of 4-14 (3-12 from play) against Galway, Monaghan and Kildare. Indeed, his superb goal late on against Monaghan in the second round kept Kerry in with a chance of reaching the All-Ireland semi-final and while it disappeared 13 days later,Clifford closed out the season by scoring 2-6 (1-5 from play) against Kildare.
As early as February, the signs were there – a signal sent out from an indoor track in Abbotstown that Sarah Healy was about to have herself one hell of a year.
Having just turned 17, the Dubliner obliterated Rio Olympian Kerry O’Flaherty to win the Irish senior indoor 3000m title in 9:10.43, carving an absurd 18 seconds off the Irish U20 indoor record.
That was only the start. In June she ran 4:09.25 for 1500m, a time only one U-18 athlete in the world – Kenya’s Edinah Jebitok, who ran 4:11.00 – has come within five seconds of this year. In July Healy went to Gyor, Hungary and made a late decision to enter the 3000m in addition to her usual event, the 1500m, at the European U18 Championships.
She won gold in both with breath-taking ease. Carefully managed by coach Eoghan Marnell, Healy’s training is far from excessive for one so accomplished and she still plays hockey for much of the year with both school and club.
When it comes to the apples-and-oranges debate of which young Irish sportsperson shined brightest in 2018, her feats in what are hyper-competitive events in a truly global sport stand simply, supremely alone.
The 21-year old electric youngster began last season with the sole aim of breaking into Leinster's 'A' team and finished it by becoming the youngest Grand Slam winner in Irish history, a Champions Cup and PRO14 winner, while he also played a key role in Ireland winning a first Test series on Australian soil since 1979.
Having starred for the Ireland U-20s last year, Jordan Larmour made his Leinster debut against the Dragons in September 2017 before being promoted to a first senior professional contract in January.
It wasn't long before Joe Schmidt came calling and Larmour made his international debut off the bench against Italy in the Six Nations win last February and had an immediate impact with his dazzling footwork.
The former St Andrew's student later saw off stiff competition from plenty of players with far more experience to start in both of Leinster's end-of-season finals before travelling down under with Ireland.
Larmour scored eight tries in his 14 starts for Leinster last year and has since brought that scintillating form into this season, which has seen him nominated for World Rugby's 'breakthrough player of the year' award.
His unforgettable hat-trick against Italy in Chicago earlier this month then cemented his place as one of the most exciting young talents in the world right now.
THE exploits of the Ireland U-17 team in May’s European Championships provided a glimmer of hope in what was quite a dispiriting year for Irish football. Dubliner Parrott was to the forefront of that campaign, with his performances all the more impressive given that he was a year young for that age group.
The Belvedere product stepped up to deliver for Colin O’Brien’s side at the finals in England, with his dead ball prowess turning heads. In the group stage, he bagged Ireland’s winning goal against Denmark before opening the scoring in the victory over Bosnia that booked a passage to the quarter-finals.
In a controversial game with Holland, his equaliser ensured the game went to penalties where Ireland went out in shocking fashion when goalkeeper Jimmy Corcoran received a second yellow card for encroaching.
Still only 16, Parrott moved to Spurs full-time in the summer and has jumped up another rung of the ladder, inspiring the U-19 team through the first phase of qualifying for next year’s Euros as well as marking his mark for his new club.
Limerick's poise and control under the weight of All-Ireland final pressure resembled that of grizzled veterans and no one summed up their attitude more than Kyle Hayes.
The 20-year-old embraced the big occasion and four exquisite points from play helped him collect man of the match in his first All-Ireland senior final appearance.
It capped a remarkable year for the Treaty centre-forward who also went on to claim Young Hurler of the Year, not bad for a rookie who played in the 2016 All-Ireland minor final.
The Kildimo-Pallaskenry ace helped to transform the Treaty attack from centre-forward and was a vital cog in John Kiely's side as they also earned promotion from Division 1B in the League.
As with most modern-day No 11s, he adopts a deeper role to regularly assist his defence while also being an effective weapon under puck-outs and a brilliant score taker.
Hayes makes use of his enthusiasm and energy while he is a brilliant ball-carrier and distributor into attack. His importance to Limerick defies his tender years and no doubt he will continue to be an important player for the Treaty for many years to come.
The Irish Flat season was barely a couple of weeks old and Donnacha O'Brien was still a teenager when he landed his first Classic success aboard Saxon Warrior for his father Aidan in the English 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket.
The following month he quickly doubled his tally when claiming the Epsom Oaks with a commanding display on Forever Together – again for his dad – before taking his first Irish Classic on Latrobe at the end of June.
That success was made all the sweeter as his older brother Joseph was the victorious trainer as the younger O'Briens got one up on their Dad to carry on the family's racing dynasty on a famous day at the Curragh.
Donnacha reached yet another landmark when hitting 100 winners in a season for the first time at Dundalk in September on his way to becoming 2018 champion Flat jockey with 29 winners to spare over last year’s victor Colin Keane.
The 20-year-old finished the season with 111 winners on the domestic front and continues to show nerves of steel in the saddle despite riding some of the world's most valuable horses in the world's richest contests.